Help Your Employees Think like a CEO

Last year we talked with Joonas and Ville from Fraktio as part of our Learn2Learn podcast. We talked about the 'flat hierarchy' and 'self-directedness' that they are trying to promote in Fraktio. We asked them what they think is at the root of self-directedness, what it really means. Their answer was quite remarkable, it was something along the lines of:

"Self-directedness is about every employee thinking like a CEO."

This quote stuck with us and we are even considering using it as a tagline for our own marketing. 

What does the CEO think about? As a CEO myself I think a lot about our company's strategy. And I think that it's critical for me not to be the only one seeing the big picture

On average, 95% of a company’s employees are unaware of, or do not understand, its strategy. 

That's not OK. Ideally, we want every employee to have a bird's eye view of the business and understand the organization's strategy. Why? There are several reasons. Let me elaborate.

1 Strategy execution

One of the critical tasks for any business is to translate organizational strategy into actions on the shop floor. No matter how smart our strategy is, if it doesn't go beyond the Powerpoint we create, it really has no impact.

And so alignment is what many businesses seek. How can we get alignment? I would claim that understanding the organizational goals is crucial. If employees were to understand how the CEO thinks, they would have a way easier time translating that strategy into their own to do lists and prioritizing tasks.

2 Spot opportunities in the moment

Being able to think like a CEO, being aware of organizational goals, and being able to understand them will enable your people to spot opportunities in the moment. Even the most robust strategy needs adaptation. We can't run organizations like the Soviet Union with rigid 5-year plans. Having a plan is important, but in the execution phase, it's essential to sense and respond rather than predict and control. I will further talk about how to empower employees to be more proactive.

3 Spot challenges in the moment

Being able to think like a CEO will also enable your people to react to challenges better. If they know not only that you are trying to move from A to B, but also WHY, it gives them enough knowledge to act on their own. 

So, how would we go about enabling employees to think like a CEO in practice?

How #1: Reflection and strategic thinking

What we found in our work is that the most important aspect of enabling people to think like a CEO is reflection. The challenge is not that people don't know the strategy, more often it's about them not being able to connect the dots, or not having enough time to slow down and prioritize the most important things. Once they start reflecting, suddenly they start thinking strategically and improve the way they approach their work.

Coaching is a brilliant tool for fostering reflection. The challenge with coaching is that most organizations can't afford it. We have developed micro-coaching that allows us to make it accessible to every single employee. Here is the feedback from one of the participants:

"Micro-coaching 1) challenges you to think about your assumptions 2) clarity in what to strive for 3) encourages you to actually solve your issues and not just worry about them."

How #2: Transparency and candor

In order to act on the newly discovered opportunities and challenges, employees need to be supported by the culture of transparency and candor. They need to know that they are safe when they bring those ideas forward. 

Enough has been said on how to build a culture of transparency and candor elsewhere, what I would want to bring across is a point about the importance of processes. One thing we do with micro-coaching is going through the conversation history of every coaching session (since everything is done via chat, it's easy), anonymizing the data, and delivering the report full of insights to the management. 

Unfortunately, very often our clients are quite surprised about what we find out. I believe that one reason why anonymous surveys don't bring them that level of insight is that they miss the deep reflection aspect. Often people aren't aware of the underlying challenges if you just ask them because they don't reflect on a continuous basis. Also, most employees only see their own perspectives, while we can see all their perspectives while coaching the whole department.

How #3: Processing all the new insights

Even if there is a culture of transparency and candor, quite often it's still hard to process all the new insight simply because of the hierarchical structure of the organization. Every leader deals with 3 or more team members and gets overwhelmed by all the innovative requests. 

One way to avoid this trap is trust. We need to trust our people and let them experiment. Do you have a suggestion? Great, go do it, and let's measure the results. We need to trust our people to be mature enough to deliver on their main priorities while also spending time on their own ideas. 

In sum

Helping employees think like a CEO is a must for every organization, big or small. Thinking like a CEO means thinking strategically, and being able to understand the organization's strategy. It helps with strategy execution, spotting challenges and opportunities in the moment. How to get there? We should help employees reflect, build processes that increase transparency across the hierarchy enabling people on the shop floor to be heard, and trust our people to experiment with their ideas. Easier said than done? One service we recommend as a starting point is micro-coaching we developed. 


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